Tomorrow's Iron Pour promises hot art

Since 2005, the CU Denver Iron Pour has been an "annual rite of spring," with professional and student artists crafting tile sculptures carved with molten iron. Not only does the Iron Pour result in pieces that viewers can take home with the, but it also gives them an amazing look at the creative process itself. An Iron Pour is an unforgettable spectacle, with dripping molten iron so bright that you can still see traces of its light with your eyes closed, and so hot your skin tingles from several feet away.

To find out more about this year's pour, we spoke with Rian Kerrane, area head of sculpture in the University of Colorado Denver's College of Arts and Media, and Kevin Turvey, an enthusiastic arts student participating in tomorrow's Iron Pour.

See also: - Matt Toole offers iron performance and lecture at CU Denver - Looking to Auraria's future while studying the lessons of its past - Denver's RiNo district breaks the First Friday mold this weekend

Westword How did you get involved with the Iron Pour?

Rian Kerrane: I come from a mixed-media sculpture background with lots of foundry experience, the bulk of which occurred in grad school for me at the University of New Orleans. I have been teaching bronze casting since 1997 in Louisiana, the Carolinas and for eleven years here at CU Denver. In 2005 I invited artist Hopi Breton to Denver. She worked with the students and me to fabricate the Irish Luck cupola, which we have used since to cast metal.

We have had several visiting artists come to campus since and work with the sculpture program. This is Matt Toole's second visit to campus. Last year he and the students designed, built and operated a giant wood-and-steel lever that enables us to pour molten metal from eight feet in the air and reach tall molds designed specifically for this "performance." Personally, much of my own work involves casting metal. It is a fascinating process, labor-intensive and rewarding.

Kevin Turvey: I got involved in casting iron a few years ago through the CU Denver sculpture program. I started out casting in bronze then, attended an iron pour on our campus. After that, I was hooked.

What are the challenges of hosting and participating in this sort of event?

Turvey: The process of preparing for an iron cast is pretty labor-intensive, and we normally spend at least a few weeks in preparation mode, preparing the materials and performing normal maintenance, before we actually get to pour.

Kerrane: We have a tradition of casting in the community and making public our classroom activities, with past pours at the Denver Art Museum, Eldorado Arts Center, Ironton Studios and Gallery, Taxi and at the Dry Ice Factory. I believe that making the artistic process visible and illustrating the production of art in a public setting is magic. The public are exposed to the "construction site" and see more than the clean finished product in the gallery or museum. My students gain professional experience working in this performance context, and see the value of their practice first-hand.

The challenges? There's a huge before and after preparation and cleanup. We are relocating our physical studio, tools, materials and equipment outside. The challenge is finding the right student, and generating a student body that loves the community that automatically generates around metal casting, the hard labor involved and the rewarding, enriching networking that occurs with the sub-culture of iron. Too often students today are afraid to get their hands dirty! At the UC Denver sculpture program, we have an ideal world were we blend new and old technologies and students can have "clean" and "dirty" hands.

What are you hoping the audience of students and artsy locals take away from the Iron Pour experience?

Kerrane: I hope for a satisfying visual experience for the public who come to watch. They can also participate in carving a work themselves. Sand tiles are $10 and we will cast each unique carving made on-site by audience participants. For my students: production of artwork, a learning experience and, with that, the empowerment a professional public performance brings.

Turvey: I love that we have the chance to share this art form with our community, and I also think it is important to draw awareness to the practice in a fine art context. In my experience, I have found that many people don't even realize that cast iron is used outside of an industrial setting and artists utilize this material in this manner.

Where do you learn to pour iron? Can you describe any notable traditions of this art form?

Turvey: As far as learning about how to cast iron, there is plenty of literature out there on the subject. I personally found Iron Melting Cupola Furnaces for the Small Foundry by Stephen Chastain to be very informative. Although books on the subject can be informative, there is little substitute for coming down and actually watching a pour in person -- and the students working at the pour love to answer questions.

Kerrane: There are two schools of thought with the iron community: a production of the object sensibility and an approach that centers on performance with iron. At CU Denver, we practice both performance and production. We offer classes in bronze-casting and iron-casting in the sculpture program. Students make objects and body parts as well as cast metal into reaction molds, generated from wood and other materials responsive to the iron.

The foundry work we do is enabled by Julius Schmidt in the early 1960s. He downsized the industrial furnace and opened the way for artists to cast in their own studios. Artists fabricate their own equipment. We are currently building a new furnace with Matt Toole and will be operating both the "Irish Luck" cupola and the "Kraken" cupolette on Friday evening.

The 2013 Iron Pour will be held on Friday, March 22, on the loading dock of the Arts building on the Auraria campus; it starts at 6:30 p.m. and will run until about 10 p.m. It's free to watch, and you can buy and carve your own tiles for $10 (they're free to CU students). Find more information on the Iron Pour here, and on parking on the Auraria Campus Parking Map.

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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham